Enthusiastic Havanans turn out to greet the first American cruise ship
The arrival of the first cruise ship from the United States brought Havana residents out, aware that they were witnessing a historic moment.
"After 50-odd years, we finally realize that the people are not to blame," said a young man. "Even the dogs came out to greet the Americans," he says, referring to various people walking their pets along the Avenida del Puerto, who stopped to witness the event.
Some went to the seaside promenade (malecón) to watch the cruise ship sail into Havana Bay. Others waited at the Plaza de San Francisco, opposite the Sierra Maestra terminal until the American tourists disembarked.
Even before they began to file off Havanans were waving to the American tourists from the malecón. The foreign press asked those on hand for their views, and everyone wanted to chime in.
"Telemundo," a lady called out to the journalists from this channel. "I want to be on Telemundo."
"Univision interviewed me," reported one girl, giddily.
One resident of Old Havana who visited the Plaza de San Francisco did not share her enthusiasm: "Yes, but the police are there, with their ears pricked, behind the people so that no one says anything damaging. They had better not interview me."
It is true that the police cordon on the Avenida del Puerto had several patrols, and officers stationed every five meters, but this did not prevent the Cubans from enthusiastically welcoming the tourists, and even breaking through the barrier.
One local resident reported that she had never seen so many people awaiting the arrival of a cruise ship. "There are always police, and people selling things, but it's the first time so many people have showed up."
There were all kinds of people, advertising for restaurants, cafes, maps. And the ever-present habaneras were there too: women dressed in bright colors, with tobacco and flowers, who charge for posing for pictures with tourists. Most of those there were not selling anything, or working. They were simply curious Cubans eager to welcome the Americans.
The conga line organized to welcome them inside the Sierra Maestra terminal indicated the imminent arrival of the first Americans, who made their way across the crosswalk opposite the Lonja del Comercio (Chamber of Commerce building) amidst shouts and applause from the Cubans there. "Welcome to Cuba," some said. Mobile phones and cameras were filming and taking snapshots, in both directions.
Although the police struggled to keep the people behind the chains that surround the square, they could not keep them from spilling onto the sidewalk, and even the street. "You can’t be on this side," they said, but no one paid attention to them. One of them said: "Don't get nervous," which sparked laughter amongst the crowd "You're the one who shouldn´t get nervous," a girl replied, laughing. "All we want is to take pictures. We're not going to do anything to the Americans."
The Americans walked towards all the commotion without any shyness, waving and saying "Hola" and "Hola, Cuba." Some waved flags of both countries, and seemed as excited as those who were waiting in the square.
One could also hear the chanting of names well known to Cubans, such as the journalist Tony Dandrades, of Univision, who proved to be more popular than those from the "Cuban Television Information System." People shouted "Tony, Tony, Tony," and someone even said: "Tony, come here," to which he replied, apologetically: "Sorry, but I have to work." They followed him, taking photos and videos, to the door of the Lonja del Comercio, and even followed him into the lobby, where some quick shots were taken with his fans.
In the Plaza de San Francisco tourists took pictures with the habaneras, whose lipstick left kiss marks on them; enjoyed one of the human statues that have become so common in Old Havana, and a welcome by a group on stilts, with their colorful conga line.
"We Cubans are really welcoming," chuckled one woman. "You’d think these people are family."
"But the Americans are just the same," replied one man. "They're greeting us too, and in Spanish and everything."
Amongst those at the welcome there were some who were happy because Cubans could finally travel to the island on these cruise ships. "My daughter says that it was a battle they waged back in Miami," explained one man. More than a few children asked their parents if they could get on "the ship." One of them, a little six-year-old, told his grandmother: "I want to live on a cruise ship, grandma." Others agreed about the importance of the moment. "This is historic," they said.
A woman of 65, who went to the port to take her grandchildren, observed: "You would have seen this same kind of enthusiasm when Obama came if they had not closed down all the streets and put police everywhere."
In her view there is no more important development for Cubans at this time than the resumption of relations with the United States. "They've been celebrating that man's birthday on TV since November, as if he weren't going to live until August," she said. "All this about the Party Congress, and they've even got us singing the Internationale. But this is what gets people out on the street, without anyone summoning them. This is the real event."